Chapter 3 – Itete (1921-26)
A few months were spent at Rutenganio, learning the language and the ways of the people, from more experienced missionaries. They arrived with two small children but during these months their infant daughter died – a hard blow to take but one which brought many messages of genuine sympathy and grief and showed them the loving hearts of the African people they were to serve. Soon it was time to take charge of the mission station at Itete, near Tukuyu; indeed Dr. Brown's responsibility was for five stations, each of which had had a staff of four or five Europeans – twenty four missionaries where now there was one and his wife. What did he find at Itete? A neglected tumble-down house, but with an impressive view of mountains, waterfalls, a village-scattered plain enriched with banana groves, gardens and stately trees with the placid expanse of Lake Nyasa in the distance.
What else did he find? Village elders who had been trying under one Livingstonia-trained native teacher to keep the Christian message alive, but with insufficient knowledge and training many had relapsed into heathen ways. Nevertheless 500 people were present at his first communion service which took place in a sheltered square surrounded by mulberry trees. The wine? – mulberry, of course! The same afternoon 23 babies were baptised, with Dr. Brown "blundering" (he says) in the native tongue. "What better incentive to learning the language for oneself could there be than this, to know that when you are saying that a thing is white your translator is probably assuring the people that it is black!" However, the Germans had left behind them a very excellent translation of parts of the Bible in the native tongue, and this was found to be even more useful than a dictionary – full of useful phrases.
Most of the mission buildings were in a dilapidated state, and it was the work of many months getting them into order, and training workers to make furniture etc. The missionary's wife's part was to help with the child care of the native women, take charge of the musical side of the work in Church and school, be assistant schoolteacher and nurse, and train the boys to work in the house. In those days these would be boys who were really raw village lads, - "They listened to the chimes of the clock with eye-sparkling delight, and the sound of the dulcitone was a joy to their music-loving souls. My roll-top desk and revolving chair also came in for a big share of their wonder." These boys took turns to go to the mission school and considered themselves greatly privileged.
Although the main supplies of medicine and dressings were slow in arriving – they were nine months on the road! – the patients were not, and it was impossible to cope with cases such as severe leopard maulings without raiding the household linen cupboard. Fortunately the Doctor's black bag had a stock of medicines which were a help until the supplies arrived. Saturday morning was the regular time for the Preacher's Class. This would be attended by 25 or 30 men of the district who would be instructed in the week's text and sermon and would set forth – many of them on a full day's journey – to take the service to the scattered villages. Then as often as possible the missionary-in-charge would set off to visit the villages himself. Whenever possible his wife would go too, accompanied by the much-loved dulcitone. This was an instrument looking like a small harmonium, but playing by a system rather like hammering tuning forks, and had the advantage in the tropics of not going out of tune. It was a great evangelising influence! Often Dr. Brown had cause to be thankful for this wife's help in his work as well as for her great gift of remaining calm under stress. Her quiet patience was the perfect foil to his mercurial temperament and restless energy. A baby boy was born to them at Itete, and as time went by it became clear that the older girl would have to be taken home to Scotland for eye treatment. It was decided that Dr. Brown would stay on, completing a five-year term of office at Itete, while the rest of the family tackled the journey home on their own, but returning to Itete before the five-year term was over. Imagine what those journeys must have been like in those days – many miles over dust roads, by lorry and train to Capetown, then the ship to Southampton.
In the meantime the missionary's days were filled, not only with preaching, teaching and medical work, but with many administrative duties, organising and paying of building and many other kinds of workers. Regular lectures in hygiene were so important a part of preventative medicine that the doctor always endeavoured to give them himself. At this time too, Dr. Brown carried out some valuable surveying work for the government, for which he was awarded the F.R.G.S. Of the various degrees and letters he had ever earned after his name - in Montreal, Glasgow and Dublin – he used to use only those of M.D., F.R.G.S. – a measure of how proud he was of this award.
Every day would start with medical work in hospital and dispensary; every day would have much writing and correspondence to be taken care of – though overseas mails would leave only weekly – but yet a minister must always have time for reading, and for prayer and meditation. Every night the last diary entry would be "Worship; Bed" and then sometimes "Reading." This would likely be some time after 10pm – but then every day began at 5.20am.
Another missionary duty would always be that of letting as many people at home as possible know of the work so that they might help with their prayers and with their gifts, for fund-raising was also part of the work. Circular letters – over 60 copies of each - would be sent to all parts of Scotland and Montreal, to be printed in such newspapers as the Montreal Star, the Orcadian and the Motherwell Young Men's Magazine. One appeal was for £10 to start a hospital. A Canadian was so incredulous at this modest request that he sent it off immediately, and the hospital was duly completed and soon in use.
Now follows an extract taken directly from the last of these circular letters to written from Itete.:
"......... a man who had been terribly mauled by a crocodile was brought in to me at nightfall in a dying condition. He had been caught mid stream by the horrid monster, but by dint of desperate thrusts at it with a spear had caused it to let him go. (Too often, as in the case of a woman last week, the victim is dragged underneath never to be seen again.) He managed to scramble to the bank where the European whose hunting party he was attached to tied up his wounds to the best of his ability and sent him off in a blanket hammock to hospital.
"The place was only some fourteen miles from Itete and as the wounded man was sent off shortly after mid-day he might easily have been attended to that night and, judging from similar cases, he might have been living today. But it was the following night before he arrived. The men who had been sent off with him went only a short distance and then, throwing him down in the bush, made off.
"The poor wretch was found later by his friends and brought to me. But, alas, exposure and neglect for a day and a night during the rains did what, given proper treatment, the crocodile wounds might have failed to do, and within an hour of his arrival he passed away. Why, you ask, such inhuman desertion of a needy man? Just this and no more. His carriers were BaNyakyusa and he belonged to the BaNgoni, their one time enemies.
"Nearly a month has elapsed since I started this letter but I had to put it aside owing to a rush of hospital work. The very next day there was brought in another crocodile victim, a man who had all but met his death while bathing in the river. He was caught above the right elbow by one of these vile reptiles and the brute actually had him thrice beneath the water, but by clinging desperately by his left hand to a stout branch nearby, he managed to shriek for help. Luckily neighbours were near who rushed to his aid, and some pulling him, others by thrusting at the monster, got him out of the water alive. They arrived at Itete with him the following morning. His arm had to be amputated forthwith. He has made a remarkably good recovery and has quite a serviceable stump. ..... He now requires only an artificial arm with an attachment for gripping a hoe that he may earn his food.
"A few days later, some leopard cases arrived. An exceptionally huge specimen of these crafty and ferocious beasts had leaped upon a cow and killed it. A big crowd of villagers came out against it with spears but were careful to keep themselves free of its poisonous teeth and claws. Now, whatever may be said for or against our African, it must be owned that he dearly loves his cattle. When the owner of the dead cow came to the scene, throwing all caution to the winds, he rushed at the leopard, which on its part, evidently realising that he meant business, rushed at him. The others however now closed in upon it and with numerous spear thrusts dispatched it; but not before it had torn open the face of its brave assailant, bitten through the hand of one of his fellows, and inflicted minor wounds on others. If the crocodile makes an ugly and filthy wound, the leopard is a good second to it and although the victims were brought to hospital, it was evident that recovery in the man so badly torn in the face was not expected by his friends. We had to sew both sides of his nose onto his face, and his lip onto his nose. The following day there were over a hundred visitors from his village hanging around the hospital and only gradually as the days passed did the numbers decrease, when they realised that he was not going to die, and so there would be no death wailing and burial feast after all!
"As already shown, this man risked his life through his eagerness to kill the brute that had killed his precious cow. Nevertheless he has since presented the hospital with a no less valued cow, as an expression of his gratitude for the saving of his life. Heathen though he is he declares: 'God helped you. Only thus were you able to rescue me from death.' "
Before leaving this station for home furlough in 1926 Dr. and Mrs. Brown had the pleasure of welcoming back some of the German missionaries, who were moved to tears when they saw how the work had been flourishing in their absence. Great was the impression on the African community when they saw these missionaries, until so recently on opposite sides in the Great War, welcoming each other in Christian love and fellowship. Surely this would help them to see the sinfulness of perpetuating their own tribal enmities.
At Livingstonia, on the way home to Scotland, a baby girl was born, and christened by the famous Dr. Laws "Mary Katherine". The year's furlough was spent, as is usual with missionaries, very largely in travelling about the home country, preaching and speaking to numerous meetings. Dr. Brown's old Church of Clason Memorial adopted him as its own missionary from this time on, supporting his work regularly with prayer and financial help.
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